Analysis

The Plan to 'Israelize' Jerusalem Has 300,000 Problems

Refusal to grant citizenship to Palestinians in the city will not allow closing of socioeconomic gaps, and is bound to keep tensions simmering

A line outside the employment office and Interior Ministry in East Jerusalem, February 2018.
Emil Salman

On every Jerusalem Day in recent years the cabinet has approved a new plan and earmarked new funding for the city. A close look at these plans shows that the government is making a revolution in Jerusalem.

For example, the program in 2014 was dubbed a “plan to strengthen personal security and social development.” The goal was to “significantly reduce violence by increasing enforcement while reducing gaps in infrastructure, employment, education and welfare.”

The thinking was to improve conditions in East Jerusalem not because it was an important goal per se but to contribute to security. Nothing of that concept is left in the plan that was passed Sunday. It has been replaced with the idea that the government must act as robustly as possible to “Israelize” East Jerusalem.

For decades the Israeli authorities treated East Jerusalem as an area different from the rest of the country. All government operations in the city were different than anywhere else. Almost all services, including health, education and transportation, were operated by subcontractors.

This approach had to do with saving money, subordinating the civilian administration to security needs, and the political weakness of East Jerusalem's people. There was also the sense that in any case East Jerusalem was only temporarily in Israel’s hands and not worth the investment.

The change came from below, from the local Palestinians. After the separation barrier was completed, East Jerusalemites had to look west for their future, toward the Jewish community; thus came demands for the Israeli curriculum, Israeli jobs and Hebrew-language skills. A few years later, the Jerusalem municipality, the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry caught on to the trend.

The plan that the cabinet approved Sunday is at attempt to bring the residents of East Jerusalem into the Israeli orbit. The Transportation Ministry’s electronic ticketing system Rav-Kav will begin operations on East Jerusalem buses as well, property will be registered in the Israeli land registry, and Israeli matriculation will be instituted in East Jerusalem schools.

From that perspective, the government should be congratulated for realizing after 51 years that it can’t just annex East Jerusalem and ignore the people living there.

But two very important objections must be added. First, the plan completely ignores the 100,000 Palestinians living in neighborhoods on the other side of the separation barrier. They too are Jerusalemites and they too have a part in the State of Israel. The ignoring of their needs is no coincidence, it’s part of the idea of separating them from Jerusalem.

For the time being, this separation plan that had been promoted by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin is stuck, but there’s almost no doubt that a new idea will pop up soon. Ignoring this matter will only worsen the problems on the other side of the barrier and the general tension in East Jerusalem.

The most important objection is that, with all due respect to the Israelization and the investment of hundreds of millions, East Jerusalem’s problem is first and foremost political.

Even the framers of the new plan are aware of this, so they wrote in its explanatory remarks: “The vast majority of the inhabitants of East Jerusalem have the status of ‘permanent residents’ and not citizens, and this characteristic has a major impact on the way East Jerusalem perceives the Israeli establishment and society on the one hand, and the cultural and political connection to the Palestinian Authority on the other.”

The most important thing to know about Jerusalem is that the inhabitants of East Jerusalem, who are not citizens of Israel, make up 40 percent of the city’s population, and they lack the right to vote for the Israeli parliament, or any parliament. This fact is a reinforced-concrete ceiling over any plans to close socioeconomic gaps and solve East Jerusalem’s problems. As long as Israel isn’t willing to grant citizenship to the 330,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, the gaps between the two parts of the city will not close and Jerusalem’s problem will not be resolved.

The numbers show that Israel will not consider granting citizenship to the Palestinians in the capital. This year, only 153 Palestinian Jerusalemites have received citizenship, some after applying seven years ago. On the other hand, granting East Jerusalemites citizenship would mean forgoing any political solution — and this would be the first step toward a binational state. No one is stating this simple truth.